Joy Dunlop has never forgotten the thrill she felt when she was first introduced to the delights of the Royal National Mod 30 years ago and offered the opportunity to appear at a festival that has become a large part of his life.
It was a turning point for this hyper-energetic woman, born near Oban, who weathers the BBC when she’s not singing, teaching, conducting choirs, recording albums, does not champion the benefits of culture to young people and people of all ages, and generally spreading the essence of its own name throughout Scotland.
Joy is an avid champion of the Royal National Mod, held annually in Scotland since 1892 and taking place in Perth this month. It features all sorts of events and traditional music, including Gaelic song, fiddle, bagpipes, clarsach and folk bands, while there are spoken word events, children’s poetry readings and adults and tales with categories such as old folk tale or humorous monologue.
Young people can create original plays and there are written literature competitions. Mod organizer An Comunn Gaidhealach (The Highland Society) also organizes local festivals in the North of Scotland and although there is a lot of planning, preparation and rivalry between everyone involved, the experience is much more than winning medals and titles.
It boosts young people’s confidence
For starters, it helps preserve and develop the Gaelic language and take it to places where it is not widely spoken, if at all. Then there’s the close-knit camaraderie and social aspect of the festival which is why there’s so much excitement about its return, following the damage caused by the Covid pandemic to all these events.
Over the past 130 years he has been all over the Highlands and Lowlands, from Aberdeen to Ayr, Dingwall to Dundee, Glasgow (repeatedly between 1895 and 2019) to Golspie and Largs to Lochaber. I still remember the effervescent fashion with which it invaded Falkirk in 2008 and the town was boosted by a flurry of activity.
Traditional music mixed with a litany of modern sounds and ceilidhs sparked joyful rejoicing in venues where many customers had previously imagined Gaelic was something they had on their bread with pizza.
Joy had been involved for many years at this stage and had already gained an impressive reputation among connoisseurs for her skill and flair.
She said: ‘When the Royal National Mod came to Oban in 1992, all the children in the area were encouraged to take part. I come from the village of Connel and at the time there was a woman called Mary Pollock, who was a native Gaelic speaker.
“I loved it from the start”
“She offered to help teach anyone who wanted to participate in our songs, so every Monday afternoon after school, the children in the village would come to her school to learn our Mod songs phonetically. first time hearing, learning or singing in Gaelic and although I didn’t win anything I loved the experience.
“From then on I took part in the Mod every year, all under the tutelage of Ms Pollock, taking part in every type of competition I could. It opened up the world of Gaelic to me and gave me the opportunity to play. It was also extremely important for gaining confidence, trying new things and introducing me to a language I never knew existed.
“Since then, I have immersed myself in the Gaelic language and culture [learning it to the stage where she can now speak it fluently] and a large percentage of my work is based on Gaelic. One of my proudest moments was winning Mod Gold at Thurso in 2010 [her prize was given to her by the man who is now King Charles III] and I still attend the Mod every year and participate in any way I can.
“Perth will be packed with people”
It will be the first time since 2004 that Perth has welcomed all modern crooks, and the community risks being stymied by healthy competition and an influx of participants and visitors helping to swell the coffers of the local economy.
Joy, for her part, certainly paints a picture of how the event can provide a boost, not just in cultural, sporting or educational terms, but simply in the exhilarating way in which so many people, of all ages and from all walks of life, come together. objective.
She said: “You can expect Perth to be filled with the sounds of Gaelic songs, traditional music and Gaelic chatter. People flock to the venue in their thousands and the buzz in the venues and on the streets is unparalleled.
“It’s fun, exciting and it lets you see how vibrant and welcoming our Gaelic community is. Come and watch the competitions, you won’t regret it”.
The Mod has something for everyone
It was hard to disagree, given the exuberance of his voice, but Joy appreciates that the Mod is a chance for an often ignored or ridiculed Scottish way of life to gain a national platform and prove that it is a living, breathing phenomenon in the 21st century. .
As she said, “The Mod is hugely important because it gives anyone, no matter where they come from and no matter what level of performance, the opportunity to be a part of something truly unique and special.
“There really is something for everyone, and it’s a great way to gain confidence in performance. You don’t need to speak Gaelic to participate, but for many it’s the gateway to learning more about the language.
“People you meet end up becoming lifelong friends and it’s honestly my favorite week of the year.”
Patricia enjoyed early choral success
Patricia Macleod grew up in a small community in the Western Isles and now works with a successful television production company, Midas Media, in Aberdeen.
And she’s convinced her early experiences in the local Mod event showed she could pursue anything in life if she put her heart and soul into it.
Pat said: “The Mod has always been a part of my life growing up in Balallan on the Isle of Lewis. With a very average voice, the national mod was always going to be unreachable, but there was an equally scary alternative: our local mod, which took place in Stornoway and was an integral part of primary school life.
“It was a mixture of excitement and fear each year as the prospect of memorizing songs and prose loomed.
It was Eurovision meets Strictly
“One year, we were only able to gather eight students for the choir and, against all odds, we won a competition. The excitement was incredible.
“At that tender age, it felt like a combination of the Eurovision Song Contest, where competition between different schools was fiercely contested, and Strictly Come Dancing, where you looked forward to the wrath of the judges.
“For singers, the Mod awards points for two separate criteria: music and Gaelic. It was an exceptionally high standard, and I was used to hearing rumors of prejudice causing dissent. On the one hand, I thought it was great in the sense of keeping the bar high, but it also created an elite group that kept us from singing and performing anywhere and anytime.
“That’s why it was so refreshing in the 1990s when Feisean nan Gaidheal [the National Association of Scottish Gaelic Arts Youth Tuition Festivals] was created to offer arts class workshops for all levels which, for me, bridged that gap.
The message is clear these days: this is an event without barriers.
James’ attitude is always positive
Debates are ongoing about the future of Gaelic and how best to preserve its history and heritage. Some people have pointed out that moving the Mod might actually reduce its impact, but it seems to have pros and cons.
But James Graham, the tireless chief executive of An Comunn Gaidhealach, is delighted that the event is introducing Gaelic not just to local audiences, but to global audiences. And if you can’t be there in person, there’s also plenty of coverage on BBC Alba.
He said: “Returning to Perth for this year’s Royal National Mod is a fantastic moment for us. It will be so special to hear and see the best of Gaelic culture and to welcome people from Perth, the rest of Scotland and even the world, to the city to enjoy Gaelic music and culture in Perth’s unique and special places.
“As a participant in Provincial and National Mods since childhood and through my management work over the past decade, I have become increasingly aware that Mod is a bedrock of Gaelic culture and its art.”
As for Joy, she won’t have much time to relax next week, given her involvement in so many different parts of the festival.
She explained: “I conduct Ceann an Tuirc, the Argyll Male Voice Gaelic Choir and I also sing with and am the Gaelic reader of Atomic Piseag, the Argyll Women’s Choir. [Both groups are currently reigning champions in their categories].
“I also sing with Ceolraidh Ghaidhlig Ghlaschu [who are known as the GGs], which is a Gaelic choir based in Glasgow. This year I will be competing with all of them, but also as a judge, chair and BBC commentator throughout the week.
Joy of name, joy of nature.
The Royal National Mod program can be found at: www.ancomunn.co.uk/nationalmod/new
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[Joy Dunlop lives up to her name in spreading the delights of the Royal National Mod]